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Real insights into Biblical accuracy
on 2 June 2013
I have to say I found this book, which looks at the way the copying of the New Testament of the Bible introduced errors into it over the years, fascinating. This was for three reasons. First because as a writer. It's remarkable to see such a study of how a series of manuscripts going back a couple of thousand years have accumulated errors and changes. Secondly it really makes you wonder about people who think the Bible is an inerrant source of guidance, and thirdly it shows how some of Christianity's less popular aspects are probably not part of the original version.
Because the book is quite thorough in detail, it helps to really be interested in language and also to have a mild familiarity with the Bible - otherwise it could be a bit of an uphill struggle.
What Ehrman reveals is the way that our translations of the New Testament of the Bible are based on various copied manuscripts and how errors in copying (both accidental and intentional to change the meaning) made various versions drift away from the originals. The detective story of piecing this together is really interesting, especially bearing in mind we don't actually know exactly what the originals said, so textual analysis has to be used to try to pin down what are the changes and what was the earliest version.
This is clearly a body blow for any intelligent person who believes the Bible is the absolute word of God containing no errors. Such people often take the King James (AV) Bible as their 'absolute truth' version - yet it turns out that the New Testament of this was taken from a single, pretty dubious, late Greek source. It gets lots of things wrong.
I won't go through all the interesting stuff, but one result of reading this is that St Paul has gone up in my estimation. Some of his letters in the Bible make him come across as seriously misogynistic. He appears to say that women shouldn't speak in public and should only do what they are told by their husbands. But it turns out this anti-female stuff was added later by a tinkering scribe who clearly wanted to assert the traditional place of men in society. The original has quite a lot that puts forward women as equals, including naming a female apostle, a female deacon and eminent female members of the congregation. So, sorry St Paul - I got you wrong.
All in all an absorbing read for anyone into the way the written word changes with time and an absolute must for anyone who takes the Bible seriously.